Cancer Prevention Advice from Local Doctors




February is cancer prevention month. What can you do to put statistics in your favor? According to Dr. Mathew Sinesi, radiation oncologist and medical director of the Chesapeake Regional Cancer Treatment Center, the best thing you can do is to follow the basics. “A lot of prevention comes from following the things your parents probably told you—avoid overexposure to the sun, watch your diet, exercise regularly and don’t smoke. Of all the health problems we have in the country now, smoking, I think, is the number one hazard. Not just for cancer but for other health problems like heart and pulmonary diseases. That includes vaping. Vaping is now coming to the forefront, and we’re finding a lot of health problems associated with that.”

In addition to the basics, Dr. Sinesi is a big proponent of regular screenings. “The screenings you have done and how frequently they should be administered depends on a person’s age and family history. The American Cancer society used to recommend getting mammograms starting at 40, then every five years until you are 50, then annually after that. They’re now saying that women at average risk should get screenings done annually starting at 45, then every other year after 55. People with a family history of breast cancer may also want to consider being screened for genetic problems that could help identify early option choices.”

Another screen that Dr. Sinesi thinks is very important for men is a PSA test for prostate cancer. “A blood PSA test to look for prostate cancer is absolutely invaluable,” he says. “It’s probably the only time we have a blood test for a cancer, but it’s a very good indicator of prostate growth and prostate cancer growth, and it picks up problems long before any other screening method. I think every man over 50 should have a PSA test done annually.”

Dr. Jared Kobulnicky, hematologist/oncologist at Virginia Oncology Associates in Hampton, is also a firm believer in patients following up with recommended screenings for cancer. “For the average patient, that means getting a mammogram, following up on either a stool test or colonoscopy for colon cancer screening, following up with your gynecologist about cervical cancer screenings and doing a Pap smear,” he says. “We’re also trying to identify specific patient populations, such as those with a history of heavy tobacco use. We can now use a low-dose CT scan on the chest which uses minimal radiation to identify early lung cancer. This is a really important thing that a lot of people don’t know about yet. Our treatments for lung cancer have improved considerably in the last two years, so for that reason, early identification of lung cancer is really helpful. Patients who are smokers or former smokers should talk with their doctor about doing a yearly low-dose CT scan of the lungs.”

Both doctors agree that early detection is the key for all types of cancers. “We had a bit of nihilism previously because our treatments for cancer were less effective,” says Dr. Kobulnicky. “Early identification back then didn’t seem to matter. But with improving treatments for breast, lung and other types of cancers, we’re more able to effectively treat and cure patients, especially when we can detect problems early.”

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